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Obama Provides Avenue Of Escape For Religiously Affiliated Institutions

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

In recent weeks, a struggle between the Obama Administration and certain religiously affiliated organizations has played out on the national stage. The struggle concerned the Obama Administration's stance on the rules that govern the health insurance plans offered by religiously affiliated organizations, such as charities, hospitals, and universities. Initially, the administration supported the requirement of such organizations to offer free birth control for their employees. It did, however, allow an exception for explicitly religious organizations, such as churches.

Many religious leaders took issue with the fact that religiously affiliated organizations were not offered a similar exception, arguing that it forced them to violate their religious beliefs. On Feb. 10, however, President Obama announced a softening of the rule, namely, that religiously affiliated organizations would no longer be required to pay for contraceptives themselves. The cost would instead be shifted to the health insurance companies.

This change is seen by many as a concession to religious leaders, particularly Roman Catholic bishops, who had been outspoken in their opposition to the policy. However, later on Friday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that rejected any compromise on the issue and instead indicated that the Conference would continue to push for a complete end to the birth control mandate.

The birth control mandate, which requires all employers to provide free access to preventive care and currently offers exceptions for religiously affiliated organizations, is part of Obama's healthcare overhaul.

The Obama Administration's recent change in stance has fractured much of the opposition to the birth control mandate. Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops remained steadfastly opposed, many religious organizations, such as the Catholic Health Administration and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, hailed the compromise as a success.

"I really am appreciative of what the president did last Friday," said Rev. Gregory Lucey, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. "I'm optimistic and hopeful, and I feel the religious liberty issue is addressed."

Supporters of the Obama Administration's birth control mandate argue that opponents are exaggerating the effect of the new rule. In fact, 28 states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception. Organizations in these states could have chosen to self-insure or not to offer prescriptions drug coverage. However, many, including Boston College, chose instead to offer contraceptive services as part of their prescriptions health insurance packages.

"Since 2002, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has required religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees," University Spokesman Jack Dunn said. "Boston College continues to provide this service, which does not cover abortions, abortifacients, or sterilization."

Though the issue remains a controversial one, it seems that the powerful opposition that initially rose to fight the rule will not be seen again. Moderate Catholics and religious leaders generally seem satisfied with Obama's compromise. As such, the administration appears to have moved on from the issue now that a compromise has been reached.

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